DP Rigathi Gachagua to chair climate talks after 'shamba system' storm

Rigathi Gachagua

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua during the funeral service of Mr Charles Kipng’ok, the Baringo deputy governor, at Solian Girls High School in Eldama-Ravine, Baringo, on September 24, 2022.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua will today chair a meeting to discuss urgent climate change interventions just days after he announced the return of the shamba system, which was banned because of the harm it caused to forests.

The meeting was ordered by President William Ruto, who said leaders will need to table urgent interventions to curb the adverse effects of drought, which has seen 942,000 children and 134,000 pregnant or lactating women suffer acute malnourishment.

“My Deputy Rigathi will on Monday convene a meeting of government involving leaders/officials to harmonise urgent interventions to stem the severely adverse effects of ravaging drought in almost 20 counties that is putting about three million people at great risk,” the President said in a tweet on Sunday.

Two days ago, the DP argued that it would be prudent to allow Kenyans to cultivate maize in forests instead of importing the cereal. While he has received the support of a few people who say the system will also accelerate the journey towards attaining the 10 per cent forest cover target, many environmentalists and politicians have criticised the plan, saying the move will claw back the gains made so far in protecting forests.

Narok Senator Ledama Olekina insisted that there will be no shamba system in Mau Forest, and asked Kenyans not to take what he described as “roadside declarations” seriously.

“Someone should remind Rigathi Gachagua that decisions are made in Cabinet not roadside declarations. ...There is no shamba system in Mau Forest, so whoever thinks the DP is above the law, dream on,” he said.

Abused

His sentiments were echoed by Kakamega Senator Bonny Khalwale, who said the shamba system will be abused by farmers to destroy indigenous forests.

“I am the senator of Kakamega, home to the Kakamega forest, the only remaining indigenous tropical rainforest outside the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Amazon of Brazil. I would find it extremely difficult to disagree with Prof Wangari Maathai,” said Dr Khalwale.

Lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi argued that the system will promote land grabbing that was common during the President Daniel Moi era.

Homa Bay Town MP Opondo Kaluma and his Suba North counterpart Millie Odhiambo also opposed Mr Gachagua’s sentiments.

“Brother Rigathi Gachagua needs urgent education on environmental protection and governance. No tree will grow once you allow people to farm within the forest,” said Mr Kaluma.

Experts have also weighed in, saying the government needs to do a proper audit to ensure it has a clear understanding and true picture of the situation instead of trying to copy-paste solutions from other countries.

“The right to food must now more than ever be accorded the priority it deserves. You will find that in one of the affected regions, it is very easy to promote agro-pastoralism which might not be the same case for another region that is equally affected by the climate crisis,” Mr Emmanuel Atamba, an agroecologist, told the Nation.

Started in the colonial days, the shamba system was meant to provide raw materials for the then expanding timber industry and to reduce pressure on natural forests. Farmers were allowed into degraded forests to plant and tend tree seedlings alongside their own crops. They would then vacate the area once the trees grew.

Following mismanagement and destruction of forests, the system was banned in 1986, reinstated in 1994 and then banned again in 2003 by President Mwai Kibaki, on the basis that it was being abused by some Kenya Forest Service officials and timber millers.

Water reservoirs

Environmentalist and Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai argued that the shamba system was abused as farmers turned large sections of indigenous forests into farmlands, destroying local biodiversity and greatly reducing the capacity of the forests to be effective water reservoirs.

Mismanaged, the system can also lead to depletion of indigenous tree species, rise of human-wildlife conflicts, destruction of soil structure and vegetation cover if heavy machinery is used, and introduction of invasive and exotic tree species.

By Mercy Chelanga’t, Leon Lidigu, and Onyango K’onyango

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